the first african american to black history month

Excuse me Mr. President, as a parent I want to Know – How Does it Feel to be the First?

Posted on Posted in Blog, Parenting's Not Easy, Raising Children of Color

Excuse me Mr. President, as a parent I want to Know - How Does it Feel to be the First?

 
 
Have you ever wondered what does it feel like to be the first? The one to lead the path not yet traveled.  I sometimes think about this with my oldest. Maybe she will be the first African American woman to become Justice of the Supreme Court, president of the United States, or governor of the state we live in. Despite the fact that we are in 2014, there are still African American firsts yet to be seen.  Still, I know if any of my children were to ever be the ‘first’, I got a feeling that it won’t be all roses and sunshine.
Have you ever seen Elizabeth Eckford’s face sheathed in shaky confidence, as she walked away from a fiery hot White mob upset over the fact that she and eight others would integrate Central High School?  

 

Elizabeth Eckford

black history month parenting

Ruby Bridges

black history month parenting

 

Every time I look at the video of Elizabeth Eckford on September 4, 1957 I get chills.  I feel the same when I see video footage or pictures of Ruby Bridges walking into school surrounded by guards.  I can’t help but think about how their families had taken special time to dress them in their Sunday best.  I envision their mama’s nerves causing them to pick at hem lines, starched collars and shined patent leather shoes the morning of.  Dinnertime weeks before and over morning breakfast, passing out plenty of warnings about how to act if they were to encounter trouble at school.  I am sure they prayed for the best and sat armpits soaked and stomach uneasy waiting for them to return home that fateful first day.  Oh the angst their mamas must have felt watching their children later on TV being bullied by a massive, angry crowd.  Not physically there to protect or help I am sure drove them crazy.  Hope for better opportunities for their children the only thing to keep them some kind of sane.
 But, from the faces of Elizabeth Eckford and Ruby Bridges it seems they were prepared well and understood what their ‘firstie’ success could mean to others who look like them in the future.  Despite potentially encountering ‘firstie’ cons like:
  • People questioning if you can do ‘it’
  • Alienation
  • Intense anxiety about failing
It was clear that Elizabeth Eckford and Ruby Bridges and their families felt - someone has to do it.
This President’s Day I look at President Barack Obama and can’t help but wonder about what kinds of hell he could tell you he’s experienced being the first.  Perhaps not crowds like the one that Elizabeth Eckford or Ruby Bridges faced, but a version of ‘firstie’ hell nonetheless.   
As a parent of African American children, when and if any of them become the first, and if fear surfaces and people who do not support show up, I will tell them to keep it moving  and to do their best to prove them wrong.  If they ask why, I hope they understand when I say, ‘cause somebody’s got to do it. 

 

How would you handle your child being ‘the first’?

 

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